By Andrew Coppolino
The debate swirling around genetically modified organisms (GMO) remains heated, and that includes at the corner of King and Benton streets in Kitchener on Wednesday afternoon.
Waving placards and chanting, dozens of community protesters and members of the National Farmers Union (NFU) occupied Speakers’ Corner, while in the hotel across the street the Canadian Seed Trade Association (CSTA) discussed introducing genetically modified alfalfa into eastern Canada.
NFU Ontario regional council member and Owen Sound farmer Charlie Nixon said the CSTA, representing the interests of 128 corporate members working in seed research, production and marketing,
did n’t invite any of the general farm organizations to the meeting, although some organic organizations were invited.
“We say jokingly that the CSTA has not invited the bees either. They are trying to convince us that what they are calling co-existence can work. It’s the bees that do the pollinating. If they’re pollinating one farm with GM alfalfa and then go across the road to a non-GM alfalfa field there will be cross-pollination. It’s inevitable,” said Nixon.
The NFU is concerned that introducing it into eastern Canada will wreak havoc commercially. And in discussions surrounding genetic modification, the name Monsanto and the question of human health inevitably pop up too.
Stephen Denys, a Chatham-area crop farmer and president of the CSTA, said in a telephone interview that we’ve been eating genetically modified soybeans for about 17 years. He says long-term studies have proven that genetic modification is safe, and adds that Roundup Ready trait alfalfa has already been approved for use.
“The Government of Canada has deemed it safe, so it’s already registered in Canada,” Denys said.
Alfalfa would be the first perennial Roundup Ready crop, whereas corn, soybeans and canola are grown in one year and they are done.
According to Denys, the alfalfa will be cut several times a year as a food source for livestock and there should be no cross-contamination. “If you’re cutting that crop multiple times a year, it never goes to seed. Producers in eastern Canada have said they want this trait in the alfalfa, and we don’t see the concerns from the export markets because if the producer is growing it the way they’re supposed to, it never goes to seed,” he said.
It seems to me that assurances that cross-pollination will not happen leave a lot to accident and the whims of Mother Nature, which could hurt farmers. Add to that the issue of humans eating GMO foods, and we probably should have concerns.